Kids are digital, but that doesn’t mean they’re savvy
People often say that kids these days are “digital savvy”. Those people are wrong.
Kids today are definitely “digital” – some Gen Zers (see above) are even confused why printed magazines don’t interact with them like iPads – but that doesn’t mean they’re “savvy”.
They might know how to use technology. But just like drugs, alcohol, sex and relationships, that doesn’t mean kids know how to use it in a way that’s safe and appropriate.
Case in point: the growing number of children addicted to the internet. Dr Philip Tam from the Concord Hospital’s Rivendell Adolescent Unit told Adelaide’s Advertiser last year that he’s been “getting calls from parents and GPs all over Australia…desperate families unable to get their kids off the computer”.
And Sydney’s Daily Telegraph this morning reported the story of one young Sydney mum whose son is so addicted to online video game World of Warcraft that he punches holes through walls, threatens people and throws things around if he’s told to get off the computer.
This trend shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. Kids are growing up in a world where they often have access to a world of information and entertainment in their pockets. It’s a world that their parents could only dream of when they were younger.
But it’s wrong to just blame the technology or a disorder on kids becoming obsessed with the online world, experts told The Punch.
“The thing is, it’s wrong to just slap a label on internet addiction and say it’s a disorder,” Professor Bob Montgomery, a fellow of the Australian Psychological Society, told The Punch this morning. “It often excuses people, parents say, ‘it’s not lousy parenting, my child has ADHD’.”
Internet addiction isn’t even really an addiction but an obsession, Prof Montgomery says. Addictions are biological and sufferers experience withdrawal symptoms, whereas that’s not the case with people obsessed with playing on the internet.
“The bigger question we’ve got to ask about kids who spend a lot of time playing on the internet is: what’s so unrewarding about their rest of their lives? Are they lousy at forming relationships?”
Kids get lots of positive feedback from engaging with virtual communities that they might not be getting anywhere else in their life.
“I think you’ll find a lot of kids who spend lots of time playing on the internet and playing with little physical exercise have social phobia, anxiety, they’re frightened of going out and starting relationships.”
Like everything else in life, kids have to learn to use the internet responsibly, in a way that’s balanced with the rest of their lives.
The answer to that isn’t just in referring kids to psychiatrists – even though that’s certainly warranted in cases where it becomes a serious disorder – but rather, with parents, teachers, and adolescents’ own experience.
Kids may be digital, but they need to get the “savvy” from somewhere and that’s where adults are clearly letting them down.
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